Anybody heard anything about a national energy policy here of late? Seems only yesterday we were coping with natural gas bills resembling the national debt and gasoline/diesel prices that were stratospheric, and California and other states were enduring rolling blackouts and facing financial insolvency because of energy costs.

Gloom and doom on every hand. How soon we forget.

Going into this winter, natural gas prices are back in their normal range. I bought gasoline a few days ago in a nearby town for 95.9 cents a gallon, the lights are burning brightly in California and the West (most hotels have even removed their ludicrous per-day energy surcharges), and nobody's complaining much about energy costs.

Energy policy? What energy policy? Hey, we've got a war to wage in Afghanistan and anthrax to battle here at home and a Congress that, after a flurry of post-9/11 buddy-buddy bipartisanship, now is back to its regular routine of internecine sniping and grandstanding.

Our friends at OPEC, meanwhile, are muttering and moaning because low oil prices are cutting into their regal lifestyles, so they're talking cuts in output to “stabilize” the price and keep their royal coffers full.

Here in the United States, our energy company friends are muttering and moaning because lower prices for oil, gasoline, and natural gas are forcing (?) them to abandon exploration and drilling for new supplies. (Things are so bad, in fact, the administration's proposing to “help” Chevron, Texaco, Enron, and a host of other big corporations with billions of dollars in retroactive tax relief. How's that for sympathy?)

Alternative energy development? Hey, who needs it, when Messrs. Exxon, Citgo, et al are charging us a buck or less per gallon at the corner convenience store? Why worry about working toward energy self-sufficiency when the pumps are full and near $2 a gallon a few months ago is only a hazy memory?

For 30 years now, going back to the gasoline shortages and long lines of the '70s, this country has been dealing with a feast-and-famine scenario for the energy that is the cornerstone of our economy and our lifestyle.

OPEC tightens the spigots, prices go stratospheric, there is widespread hand-wringing about our dependence on foreign oil, much ado is made over reducing that dependence through new energy sources and new exploration, and there is a fervor throughout the land to show the energy barons that now, finally, this time, at last, for real, we mean business. Honestly. Cross our hearts. No kiddin'.

But just when it appears something will in fact be done toward increasing domestic energy supplies, getting serious about alternative sources, and making a long-term commitment toward reducing our dependence on foreign oil — well, miraculously, prices go down. OPEC magnanimously increases supply, refineries begin humming, and once again thoughts of a national energy policy fade like the Cheshire cat.

Only the cat's grin is left. And the cat is OPEC and the energy industry. They've seen it all before. They know they have only to wait; that we in the United States have a short memory, and that as long as they toss us a sop of energy “bargains” from time to time, we'll moan and groan and pay their price the rest of the time.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com.